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Genital Herpes May Never Go Dormant
Date:11/18/2009

Study finds low level shedding may be continuous, infection state unclear

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Herpes, the sexually transmitted disease that causes genital lesions, never truly goes into a dormant state, new research suggests.

As a matter of fact, even when it's not causing an outbreak, the virus is shedding tiny bits of itself in the genital tract.

While the study did not specifically address whether or not the very small amounts of virus being continually shed are enough to infect someone else, the findings have the potential to change the way in which scientists view the life cycle of the disease.

The herpes virus is believed to hide out in the neurons around the spine during latent periods, then periodically travel down neurons that end in the genital tract, where it infects the skin cells, causing a lesion.

The accepted view is that the virus was largely inactive during latent periods, said study author Dr. Joshua Schiffer, a senior fellow at the University of Washington in Seattle.

"We've known for many years that herpes maintains a latent state in the nerves around the spinal cord. In effect, it hibernates there," Schiffer said. "The older idea was that it didn't do much while it was there ... But what our model suggests is the virus is continually being released from the neurons."

The study appears in the Nov. 18 issue of Science Translational Medicine.

The study looked at herpes simplex 2 virus, not herpes simplex 1 virus, which causes cold sores or fever blisters, though it can also cause genital lesions. Schiffer said he suspected the findings would hold true for herpes simplex 1 as well, though previous studies suggest herpes simplex 1 may shed less often.

Schiffer and his colleagues used data from two previous studies. In the first, participants swabbed their genitals every day during an outbreak and until their lesions went a
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